June 18, 2015

This just in: Hipsters are silly dorks; love inappropriately recontextualizing old shit


Typewriters are cool! Just ask Tom Hanks! They are clicky-clacky write-boxes that gave almost a century of writers and other word obsessed people a fantastically clunky tool to write with, for which we should be grateful. According to Wikipedia, Henry Mill holds the patent for the first typewriter, created in 1714. According to that first patent Mr. Mill:

by his great study and paines & expence invented and brought to perfection an artificial machine or method for impressing or transcribing of letters, one after another, as in writing, whereby all writing whatsoever may be engrossed in paper or parchment so neat and exact as not to be distinguished from print; that the said machine or method may be of great use in settlements and publick recors, the impression being deeper and more lasting than any other writing, and not to be erased or counterfeited without manifest discovery.

Wowie Zowie Mr. Mill! That’s a pretty nifty machine you got there! And indeed, it was a nifty machine that would go on to revolutionize the craft of writing. In 1865, Reverend Rasmus Malling-Hansen invented the first commercially produced typewriter, the Hansen Writing Ball, a strange object that resembles a sea-urchin more than a Underwood.

Hansen Writing Ball
Writing ball keyboard 3“. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

By the early 1900’s the design of the typewriter had been somewhat standardized, and the QWERTY layout standard had been almost universally adopted. It was a golden age, one that would continue unabated until the apocalyptic rise of the computer sent the typewriter industry into a tailspin from which it never recovered. Typewriters had lived a long life and had given us plenty of literary goodness: Mark Twain was a avowed fan of the typewriter, claiming in his biography to have been the first major writer to have presented a publisher with a typewritten manuscript; Moby Dick was probably written on a typewriter, and so was the Treaty of Versailles, probably; William S. Burroughs may have believed in something called a “Soft Typewriter,” for whatever that’s worth. Like I said, typewriters are cool! They are also dead. And this is a good thing. Because computers are excellent, and typewriters are noisy, messy lumps of pig iron.

Again: Typewriters are neat! They did a lot of great stuff, and they are cool in the same way that other obsolete objects are – they remind us of simpler times, when things were heavy and oily and didn’t fit in your pocket.

However, they are also pretty stupid things to (a) write with or (b) bring with you anywhere, which means that they are now being used for just that purpose in exactly that capacity by unreasonable, young white people wearing funny clothes. Take a look.

I’m tempted to say that there’s no harm in bringing your stupid, heavy toy with you to write god-knows-what in your grimy little booze hole or on the L train. But there is. There is plenty of harm, because not only are typewriters stupid and heavy, they are LOUD, and when you bring them with you into a public place you are saying that you do not give a single fuck about the people around you. That is rude. Also that guy is wearing clogs and sitting at a handicapped-friendly table. The rest of the photo’s are well worth looking out. Most are pretty tame. This one is insane.

For the last time: typewriters are cool! Unlike some people, I do not think that they are a “shitty version of a computer.” (Hey Alex!) I prefer to think of them as the ruggedly handsome idiot grandpa of the computer. There is nothing wrong with having one in the attic, but you really shouldn’t bother guests with them or bring them with you to the bar. They are not practical, and when you use one in public you are being a jerk. Go ahead and write with it if you must, just do it in the privacy of your own home. Or use Hanx Writer, like a civilized person.


Simon Reichley is the Director of Operations and Rights Manager at Melville House.